PHIL 41150: Political Philosophy
Dr. Robert Lane
Lecture Notes: Friday February 28, 2003

[7.] Different Forms of Commonwealth by Institution (Leviathan ch.19).


[7.1] What Forms Are There?




sovereignty is in one man



sovereignty is in more than one man, but not all

democracy (a.k.a. popular commonwealth)


sovereignty is in all men


·         These are the only three possible forms of government

·         The terms "tyranny," "oligarchy" and "anarchy" do not refer to other forms, but are used by people who dislike monarchy, aristocracy and democracy to refer to those same three forms.

·         Even when there gathers together a group of individuals to represent the interests of the subjects to the sovereign and petition the sovereign on the people's behalf [as in the Parliament of England -- Hobbes doesn't mention this specifically, but surely it's what he has in mind], those "representatives" do not represent the people in the way the sovereign does. The sovereign  is still the entity to which the people have transferred their natural rights; the existence of an assembly that petitions the sovereign on behalf of the people doesn't change that. (ch.19, ¶3, p.422)


[7.2.] Which Form is Best?


Hobbes gives several arguments to support his claim that, of the three possible forms of government, monarchy is best:



1. When there is a conflict between the public interest and the interest of a sovereign, the sovereign will invariably choose to promote his (their) own interest instead of the public interest. [This is implied by Hobbes' psychological egoism.]

2. Therefore, the public interest will be best served in the system of government in which it and the interest of the sovereign are most closely united. "…where the public and private interest are most closely united, there is the public most advanced." (ch.19, ¶4, p.423)

3. In a monarchy (but not in an aristocracy or democracy), the interests of the sovereign depend exclusively on the interests of his subjects. (This is because "no king can be rich, nor glorious, nor secure, whose subjects are either poor, or contemptible, or too weak through want, or dissention, to maintain a war against their enemies: whereas in a democracy, or aristocracy, the public prosperity confers not so much to the private fortune of one that is corrupt, or ambitious, as doth many times a perfidious advice, a treacherous action, or a civil war." ch.19, ¶4, p.423)

4. Therefore, the interests of the public and of the sovereign are most closely united (in fact, they are the same) in a monarchy.

5. Therefore, the public interest will be best served by a monarchy.


Two: A monarch has access to better advice and information than an assembly, because he can receive counsel by whomever he wants, whenever he wants, and (if he wants) in secret -- and this is not the case with an assembly of rulers.


Three: An assembly is more subject to "inconstancy", due not only to human nature (which results in a monarchy being inconstant to some degree, as well), but also to "the absence of a few ... or the diligent appearance of a few." This variability can "[undo] today, all that was concluded yesterday." (ch.19, ¶6, p.423)


Fourth: assemblies, but not monarchs, can experience disagreements within themselves, which can lead to civil war.


Fifth: assemblies are even more susceptible than monarchs to influence by orators and flatterers.


Sixth: this isn't so much an argument that monarchy is better than other forms, as it is an argument that an alleged problem with monarchy (inconveniences that occur when sovereignty passes to an infant successor) doesn't stem from the nature of monarchy itself, but from "the ambition of subjects, and ignorance of their duty." (ch.19, ¶9, p.424)


Political Philosophy Homepage | Dr. Lane's Homepage | Phil. Program Homepage

This page last updated 2/28/2003.

Copyright © 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003 Robert Lane. All rights reserved.

UWG Disclaimer